"Les Compagnons du Devoir" & the American College of Building Arts
Three exceptional Frenchmen are at the top of our new headline “Honoring the French”: Jean Lemineur, Mikael Letendard and Bruno Sutter. Members of the French association “Les Compagnons du Devoir”, they all teach at the American College of the Building Arts (ACBA) in Charleston, South Carolina, where they share their expertise and passion for building arts. Created in 2004, the ACBA asked to the French workers’ association “Les Compagnons du Devoir du Tour de France” to form its corps of professors, due to the insufficient lack in the number of skilled craftsmen in the United States. Presided over by William Christie, the ACBA is unique in its kind being that it is the only American scholarly establishment proposing six specializations at the master’s level: Architectural Metal, Architectural Stone, Carpentry, Masonry, Plaster Working and Timberframing.
Jean Lemineur became a “Compagnon” at the age of 21 where he learned the art of masonry as the benefits of community life and developed the art of travel. Indeed, “Les Compagnons du Devoir” is not workers’ association like any other. Following in the steps of the “compagnonnage” movement begun during the 12th Century at the time of the construction of cathedrals, the association still cultivates certain ethical values from this period, as well as a kind of mystic realism of well executed work, the richness of practical experience and the handing down of knowledge. After living in France for nine years, Jean found out the ACBA and decided to settle in Charleston in 2005. Due to his discovery of the ACBA, he is finally able to see the United States. Following the principles of the “Compagnons”, Jean seeks to train his students “professionally, but also humanely” while also revalorizing jobs too often considered to be obsolete.
Trained in timberframing, Bruno Sutter is from a small village 15 kilometers from Colmar, in Alsace, France. At the age of 19, he joined the “Compagnons”. Thanks to the association, he has travelled in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the United States, where in New Hampshire for a year. In 2005, Bruno was chosen by the international service of the “Compagnons” to help in the creation of the ACBA. At the same time, he created a micro-company in France, of which he is the sole employee, providing services (calculations and sketches) to French architectal offices. These activities take up an important part of time. Experienced as a “Compagnon”, his philosophy is to “train craftsmen who are able to maintain the heritage of housing”.
Originally from the Rennes, in Britanny, France, Mikael Letendard taught carpentry for more than two years with the “Compagnons” working in collaboration with Bruno Sutter. Having worked in the Philippines, the Caribbean and Saudi Arabia, he joined the ABCA in August 2007. With travelling in his blood, Mikael can’t wait to discover the United States. Captivated by the Charleston area, he is particularly appreciative of the ideal working conditions there and he looks forward to providing his students a very personalized education. He is very proud to work for “a school in the United States that really cares about the future of his profession”, and he would like to develop partnerships between the ACBA and the local companies.
Having a passion for their work, Bruno, Jean and Mikael consider the teaching at the ACBA to be one the most enriching moments of their careers: “education is one aspect of this craft that has has an enormous effect on me” says Jean Lemineur. This does not mean they are not interested in establishing their own companies while working part-time at the school. “As a timber-framer, I have more opportunities here than in France. There is not as much competition”, explains Bruno. Indeed, there are only 350 traditional timber-framing companies in the United States and the closest one is four hours from Charleston. Considering the historic heritage of the area, Bruno and his colleagues have no doubt that they will be successful.